Makou Dam panorama

We’re five days into the second week of June, and I only post now. I did not even realise I was running late; besides end-of-term, I have also been replacing my car and a lot of time and energy has gone into that! We’ve had REAL weather, and I’ve been able to prove a theory I’ve held for some time: when there is bad weather out there, ours gets better. My night-time temps went up dramatically. We are sheltered from the wind in our valley, so we don’t feel the wind chill factor  much. Instead the air turbulence prevents the coldest of the air from drifting down our valley, getting ever colder. And so, where others experienced colder weather, ours was warmer, around 5 degrees C. However June has been cold enough for everything to be decidedly wintery, the tree fern fronds brown and broken, the grasses bleached.

Swamp cypress twig 

Those trees that still have autumn colour are therefor precious – and of these the cinnamon swamp cypresses are currently the most precious! So here is my official pic-of-the-week – a twig of swamp cypress, Taxodium  distichum. Several of them feature around the Makou Dam, pictured above. To left and right there  are three in full glory, but further to the right,  on the very edge of the dam, is one that has lost its leaves completely. There are four in the centre, of which one still wears a hood of leaves; the others are bare. Curious.

Swamp cypress twig detail



I’ve not spent much time in the garden with the camera of late – although I’ve planted up six new blue ceramic pots on the steps up behind the house with winter annuals, and taken 33 cuttings of five different hybrid Phygelius to add to the cuttings of the wild one taken earlier – read more about that here. Walks in the garden have been about the dogs and about simply enjoying autumn: although the spectacular displays are mostly over, vignettes in richer colours remain. The above view is the first impression a visitor would get of the garden on entering from the new entrance at the head of the Rosemary Terrace.

I have also not really added to my stock of possible entries for the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This (pictures here) Contest. I posted about possible entries here, then took a few more shots the following day, none of which warranted either processing or sharing in more than these strips; they are simply too baroque; raindropped close-ups of vivid flowers.

d e f

What I have done is look at my possible competition entries from the previous post, enlarging the screen to 200% and simply leaving a photo on screen to glance at over a period. And my favourite, the green leaves of Elephant Ears, has become progressively less interesting, the focus just slightly fuzzy. So I’ve looked at the others…

2 Elephant Ears 5 Dappled light on fallen leaves 6 Dappled light on fallen leaves

The fallen leaves are good photos. Better entries. The azalea flowers are an obvious entry, sharp, pretty, striking with interesting backlighting through the flower on the filaments. But perhaps a little predictable. I like the red plane. The Japanese maple leaves? So-so.

1 azalea filaments 9 Red Plane detail 7 Japanese maple against the light

But the one I keep coming back to, looking deeper, enjoying the colours, exploring the composition, is the one I thought  of as the also-ran:

GWW entry

So I go back to the photos in sequence  as they came off the camera…

a b c

I was surprised when  I found this shot on the camera. But I remember being fascinated by the way the light was coming through the leaves, and leaf-shaped shadows were being cast on other leaves, and the layers of leaves behind leaves. Layering was perhaps the central theme of these three photos and the ones beyond them. And layering IS what I explore in this shot. Most of it is out of focus. But the texture of the Japanese Maple leaves are a constant, in and out of focus. And the colours are glorious with the soft green area off-setting the reds and browns. It becomes almost an abstract of autumn leaves on a maple. So I go back to the instructions… and the final statement is HAVE FUN!

Well  this one is the most fun of all my shots. Decision taken. It is my entry!


Living room dawn detail

I shan’t apologise for photographing the same subject yet again. I spent years doing just that at the cottage, and now it is this view that defines my mornings. Photos are taken from the windows, in passing. There is no time for more than that most mornings. This is the view from the living room, looking across seeding zinnias and blue Browallia (read more about them here) into the Ellensgate Garden with the wisteria arbour of the Anniversary Garden beyond. Beyond that again, the Pride of Indias at The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe, and the arboretum. A misty haze drifts off Freddy’s Dam, rising slowly, and often forms  a horizontal element in the composition. By the moment, sunlight drops into the valley…

What I really want to share with you though, is a dusk experience. The Woolly-Necked Storks are back often enough now that I can call them our resident storks. Most nights between sunset and darkness, five of them drop out of the sky, then circle gracefully, confirming their perch for the night in the tall gum tree before settling down. I’ve yet to see them leave, but many a morning as I arrive at school, about two km away as the stork flies, I see them pacing the dewy playing fields and taking the morning sun. I get great pleasure at the end of the day watching their arrival and knowing they too find this tree, pictured below, rather special.

Sunrise from the living room



Bit of a cheat again: these pics were taken on the 10th, but I’ve not been out with the camera since, and I am compiling this on Thursday night, as there won’t be the opportunity to do anything again before Sunday. So let me share with you two long exposures taken at 6.30am of a late autumn morning. That makes it first light. The view from the stoep – or veranda – is glorious. The first pic looks slightly to the left, the secon, to the right, includes one of the pillars through which one sees the view.

First light


I set off this morning – a perfect sunny Saturday – with the intention of focusing on the close-up or macro picture I need for Gardening Gone Wild’s May ‘Picture This’ competition.

3 Cotoneaster horizontalis

The brief is to specifically look at the effect of effective lighting in close-ups and macros. I took 172 shots; I have processed 23 to share. Not all are for the competition; and some I took for the competition didn’t even make it to the shortlist. Above: Cotoneaster horizontalis. Verdict: not competition worthy.

a Makoudam with swamp cypresses

From about the same position as the cotoneaster, I took the above shot down the Long Border towards one of the Swamp Cypresses on the Makou Dam. They will feature in the following shots as well.

a Makoudam from under swamp cypresses

The Swamp Cypress or Taxodium distichum is a deciduous conifer from the eastern USA. Its leaves turn a lovely cinnamon colour. but none of my close-ups qualify…

a Makoudam and  swamp cypress

The interesting thing about them is that each tree marches to its own drum. Some turn early, some late. But year after year they are consistent.

a Makoudam with swamp cypress reflection

As we make our way around the Makou Dam, there is the opportunity to photograph the progress at the site of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. Don’t know about it? Find out more here.

a Site of the new garden

The Bugle I bought on auction from which the water will spill – the Celestial Trumpet – has arrived, and I’ve discovered that the dogs’ water-bowl, a flat, rectangular copper vase that was demoted when I tired of having a plastic bowl in the middle of everything, has the proportions of the Golden Rectangle (1:1.618)… I do think that the trumpet should rise from it…(besides anything else, I like the progression: vase>water- bowl>symbol of perfection)

a Site of the new garden 2

But I set out to take close-ups…

b Liquidambar avenue

Here is The Avenue – the Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) which make their way up through the Arboretum in a double avenue with azaleas between them and hydrangeas beneath them. (I took several hydrangea photos, but they don’t feature today.) The fallen leaves, in various stages of decay and catching the light, proved very photogenic.

b liquodambar detail

A detail from the previous photo, this does not quite qualify for the competition.

5 Dappled light on fallen leaves

But this one does…

6 Dappled light on fallen leaves

…As does this one.

d Mateczka

But this one doesn’t!

Autumn azaleas

Many azaleas are blooming. As always in autumn, the semi-deciduous mauve ones are putting on a spectacular show… perhaps there is a competition entry here…

1 azalea filaments

However I do anticipate my entry being an autumn shot…

d Off camera

This photo is exactly as it came off the camera. I’m not at all certain if it is an accident or was planned!

7 Japanese maple against the light

The Japanese Maples  are an obvious choice, though. This one and the next are Acer palmatum ‘Tricolor’ and the pink/cream/green variegation results in interesting autumn shades as well.

8 Japanese maple against the light

Hmmm – those two are more similar than I realised. The next is almost not recognizably a Japanese maple.

10 Mutated Japanese maple

I grew it from seed. It is a mutation, slow growing, actually rather messy in appearance, but fascinating. Instead of having hand-shaped leaves, they are reduced to just the central finger or, as in the leaf pointing upwards, separated into three leaves. In addition they are congested and appear at the end of twigs only, on a narrow, upright tree. It is now about 2.5m tall, and becoming more and more interesting. Although truth be told – it is more interesting in concept than in reality…

c View across freddy's Dam

This glimpse, stolen across Freddy’s Dam towards a Parrotia persica coming into its own, is rather romantic, I think. And forms a modulation between possible entries.

9 Red Plane

One of my proudest possessions is this plane tree. Instead of having yellow autumn leaves, they are red. What is more, they start turning in mid February and last till mid May. That is three months of spectacular autumn colour. I found it in a rural nursery in KwaZulu-Natal amongst yellowing plane saplings, and sneaked it away nonchalantly…This photo was taken up into the light, with some leaves showing their backs and others their upper surface, I liked this so much I cropped it closer:

9 Red Plane detail

I like this photo. It might be called an elegant composition. Sparse. Simple. To the point: this IS what the red plane is all about.

d Japanese Maple avenue

One last photo, of the Japanese Maple avenue on my way home, before – well, before the very first photo I took. The one I believe might well be my entry. And literally the first of the day. There were several more of this subject, but the first, impulsive and unconsidered, was the best. Interesting…

2 Elephant Ears

These Elephant Ears , or Alocasia, came to me from England, of all places. I bought the seeds, from Thompson & Morgan, as I recall, because they were said to repel moles. I doubt that they have done so, but in the process I obtained a wonderful foliage plant of a family that does not cope – usually – with our cold winters. These grow dramatically outside the staff’s house as one enters Sequoia Gardens – thus the pinkish background – and I intend introducing it into a few of my borders in spring. For simplicity and effectiveness of composition, for textural detail as a result of the lighting, I think this is the best of my attempts to date. Think of the theme: Lighting: look closer.


Beech Borders Panorama

I think of autumn as a bright time. Obviously the colours are bright, but more importantly the light is bright. In a good year my autumn shades are spectacular, for we have warm, sunny days and cold, clear nights – the perfect recipe for good autumn colour. April has been odd this year. Possibly we had even less sun than in the very wet January. That meant not only less heat during the day, but also less cold during the overcast nights. And less bright light in which to enjoy the colours. And so it was with great enthusiasm that the dogs and I set of on a lovely sunny Saturday  to record this less-than-best mid-autumn morn.

View across Freddy's Dam

Top: Looking down the Beech Borders with the most spectacular of our autumn displays, an avenue of Japanese Maples planted over thirty years ago along the house-water fountain’s stream. Nine years ago I planted an equivalent avenue to the left of this vista. They are starting to make an impression.

Bottom: Looking across Freddy’s Dam from under the Water Oak. The display is from Maples, Tupelos, Oaks, Flowering Cherries and Liquidambars. The House that Jack Built is just to the right of the frame.


View from the front door

Am I a little obsessed with The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe? You bet!  Am I excessively fond of autumn? You bet! So please, just accept this photo, a sort of season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness photo, which looks down the axis towards where it is all happening. Imagine a jet of water marking the centre of the axis. And imagine it falling down, not into a random collection of rocks and stones as it was going to do, but into a model of the perfect universe; or perhaps more correctly, a maquette of the imperfect one. The plan is that the spiral design will be repeated in the placement of the rocks, with a simple copper pipe spiral representing the chute of the fountain below. I’m sure that, even if you have been following all my plans, you are a little confused,. Bear with me, please! In time all will hopefully become clear.

On auction at bidorbuy I have acquired this bugle for R300 – that is about US$45 – which is to form the ‘Celestial Trumpet’ from which the water in the chute first appears. Meanwhile the concept has grown; a sort of African symbolism has been added: a brazier of red  ‘coals’ will add the element of fire to the source… bugle 1

What is more I have bought a small brass abacus, a trinket really, but somehow it will make its way into the design as a symbol of Eastern mathematics and the wide foundation our understanding of the universe has. And meanwhile the wattle wall has been completed.

Monty studies autumn

After a long day followed by a walk through the garden, I was sitting late this afternoon, looking out across the lawn towards the big gum  and the autumn shades. I had been in charge this morning of the hosting by our  Rotary Club of the final round of a substantial regional public speaking competition for eleventh graders, where the prize is a six week short term Rotary Exchange overseas. Always it is a humbling experience, for the young are so articulate, so passionate and so optimistic. There is an additional element which non-South Africans will understand only with difficulty. Ten years ago we were amazed at how well black students were doing, how well they spoke English, how obviously they were of a new dispensation. Now we take it for granted. And instead my thoughts today were of the many hundreds of thousands of children, still locked into rural poverty and bleakness, who could also achieve at the level these children were achieving.

4 Woolly necked stork 3

It was growing dark. Suddenly five birds flew into view, circled and settled into the huge gum tree for the night. I knew they were Woolly-necked Storks, for during this last summer we have gone from seeing them occasionally to having a resident family from a nest on my neighbours’ farm. But I had never seen them coming in to roost before, nor so many – and they had chosen my tree! So moved was I that for the first time in over thirty years I attempted poetry. I hope that in the cold light of day I do not regret sharing it with you…

See more about them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolly-necked_Stork 

woolly necked storks 2 Woolly necked storks 1

                         Four pictures of Woolly-Necked Storks off the web


Could I capture the grace –

Or the size (how can such a small bird

Be so big?) Or the silence

As in darkening dusk

They swooped in, squabbled

About roosts, took off,

Returned, always graceful,

Turning on outspread wings,

Silently observing, choosing a spot, silently landing –

Could I really still see their movement

As the dusk darkened, hear

Their silence as the fluting

Of reed frogs , even the sound

Of the grass growing, the neatly

Trimmed lawn in the foreground, was

That wind in the gums behind them, yes,

There was movement in the uppermost

Leaves of the towering gum

They were roosting in, dark now

Against the darkness, roosting

In my tree, would they return, had they

Been here before, they had come

So unexpectedly in the gathering

Dusk, five at first, perhaps two more

Later, swooping in, silently, arching wings and backs,

Dropping long legs, braking, circling, perching,

Disappearing in the dark, all but their

White necks


In the dark

Would they come again?

Had they been before?

These silent graceful creatures

In a silent graceful dusk

Unexpected symbols

Of silence, perfection, grace

On a perfect eve

As summer


Into autumn.

           Jack Holloway 16/4/2011


Cornus florida BY FLASH

If the third week of April means it is now really autumn, let there be red, I say. In fact we seem to be a touch slow this year, but only an extensive comparison of year-on-year photo records can prove anything. And usually it proves how consistent nature really is. Anyway, most autumnal at the moment is the Cornus florida at the Embarkment, more so when photographed by flash in the fading light, which further accentuates the lighter, somewhat silver shades on the back of the elegantly curved leaves. Action plan for Sunday: spend time in the garden with the camera!


Autumn in the air

By the skin of my teeth I make it – March week 2, that is. I think I’ve only once or twice not posted for a whole week and missed out on my ‘this week in my garden’ pic. But here I am, and I’ve all but managed to miss two weeks in a row. Not that I’ve taken NO pics, or not thought of the post I’d do. It has been year-end on Sequoia, and marks are due this coming week at school… The theme has been clear all along: autumn is in the air. It creeps up suddenly in mid Feb most years, the first colour in the leaves. This year it started even earlier. We’ve had an odd year, one of the wettest Januaries on record, followed by the driest February by far – usually our wettest month – and March remaining sunny. Perhaps that has caused thoughts of a shut-down in the trees. Be it as it may, everywhere there are subtle shades of red and yellow infusing the greens of summer. Some trees are showing full colour in some leaves. Autumn will blaze from mid April to mid May. But the joys on either side of this are welcome, and precious. Oh – the crocosmias in the photo above I am saving for Wednesday’s Wild Flower post…

First colour on Acer saccharinum


1 about to cross the Makou Dam

“Come on, what’s keeping you?!” Mateczka seems to be saying, and well she might, because never have I been this tardy with a post: yesterday these photos were a fortnight old. A very different world is out there – but, surprisingly, still damp and still no real cold – i.e. I don’t think night temps have been below 5 degrees Celsius. Here we are setting off on our walk and about to cross the wall of the Makou Dam below the Big House.

2 view across Makou Dam

Here we look upstream; the rounded yellow tree in the centre is the Water Oak (Quercus nigra) outside The House that Jack Built. Most of the colour in the above two photos is from Pin Oaks (Q. palustris) and Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium distichum).

3 Always a good spot to reconnect...

The bench under the Pin Oak is always a good spot to stop and stare. And the dogs cavort on the lawn or snuffle in the undergrowth when I sit here. As good as a walk, they say.

4 looking across to Big House through Acer forrestii

As we climb the slope to the Arboretum, the Big House and its gardens are framed by an Acer forrestii.

5 Camelia sassanqua and Doubly taking a rest

We climb still higher and Doubly takes a rest whilst I photograph the double pink Camellia Sasanqua.

6 Stompie is also getting very old but still enjoys a walk

Here it is again on the right; the red is mainly Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and the yellows far left are the Pin Oaks and Liquidambars which one sees from The House that Jack Built. Tomorrow morning I must decide if my dad’s little Fox Terrier, Stompie, must be taken to the vet and be put down. I think not yet; despite pain and discomfort, yesterday she again accompanied us on a walk after a few days of not being interested. I used to fold her ears over her head and call her the Duchess of Windsor. She has always eaten like a horse but remained perfectly thin. Besides looking like the Duchess with her ears on top of her head (remember her odd squared-off hair style?) she always reminded me of the Duchess’ infamous words: one can never be too rich or too thin. Well, too rich we never quite managed…

7Acer rubrum I

Here is a close-up of, I think, Acer rubrum, the Red Maple, which featured last week with mauve azaleas…

8 Red flowers and red autumn leaves on an azalea

Many of the’evergreen’ azaleas feature the odd bright red or yellow leaves, forming a lovely chorus line for the main autumn characters. This one has some unseasonal red flowers to boot.  (or is that ‘to dancing shoe’?)

9 Autumn from the arboritum

Here we look out again across the autumn garden, the two tall Eucalyptus trees dominating, even with just their trunks…

10 a close-up

And here you see it again in a little more detail.

11 Looking across the Tulip Trees in The Avenue and up the valley

Here we look a little more to the left and up the valley. The yellow in the centre is the double avenue of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). Before the neighbour’s house, a tree from the avenue of Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) on our border can be seen  behind an avenue of Pin Oaks.

12 Pointilism as practiced by nature

In a close-up from the same spot – who says Seurat invented pointillism?!

13 Tulip trees

I always thought the Tulip Tree was named thus because the unusual leaves look like a child’s drawing of a tulip. Not so; it is the vague resemblance of its flowers that gave the name!

14 The last hydrangea of summer

‘The last hydrangea of summer’ doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘the last rose’, but this one from the planting under the tulip trees sure shows why I love the long season of interest the mopheads give me…

15 Framed 

From under a Tulip Tree – the middle ground colour is from the flowering cherry Prunus ‘Kanzan’ and a Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum.

16 Louis' Liquodamber and others

Most of this colour is from Liquidambars; those in the middle are near The House that Jack Built and the furthest ones are the avenue marching up the hill on our border towards the stand of Sequoia trees (Sequoia sempervirens) which break the horizon and which gave the farm its name.

17 Looking down on Freddy's Dam

Here is a closer view of the same subject, focusing on the crescendo of our autumn compositions: the trees on Freddy’s Dam near The House hat Jack Built. In the centre, the smaller, brighter flame is an orangeTupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) planted right on top of a yellow Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) which seemed to be dying but revived the moment there was competition. To their left Liquidambars provide red, orange , yellow and purple; they in turn are backed by an avenue of Pin Oaks. To the right of the flame the rounded shape of a Japanese Maple is in the early stages of turning. Behind them pink and white Dogwoods (Cornus florida) and several different flowering cherries (Prunus sp.) also provide  magnificent autumn colour, as do several different Berberis, Spiraea, Viburnum and an Amelanchier. For now you’ll have to believe me when I mention all this profusion!

18 The road from which many people first see The House that Jack Built

Now we’ve dropped down to the road below the arboretum; here we are in the area across the dam from The House that Jack Built, with maples and flowering cherries providing most of the colour.

18b Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Nearby the Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) has the unusual distinction of autumn leaves which smell of burnt sugar… candyfloss comes to mind for most people!

19 The road upstream from Freddy's Dam 

As we move upstream along the road, we see a magnificent Prunus subhirtella pendula surrounded by several fine examples of Acer palmatum atropurpureum group which show various levels of red in their leaves through the seasons, and all turn in different ways in autumn.

20 Close-up of Nyssa leaves

Near here is a fine example of Nyssa sylvatica which I grew from seed – one of the most mouth-watering of all autumn trees.

21 Dogs exploring

The stream is just visible beneath the weeping cherry, the dogs explore, waiting for me to speed up, and my favourite red-leaved plane is showing further down the road.

22 And Doubly following at his own pace

And Doubly follows at his own pace…

23 Red plane leaves

The autumn leaves of a Plane ( Platanus x hispanica)  are usually yellowish. This strong red leaf I found amongst hundreds of typical trees in a nursery  far from Sequoia one autumn. I picked it up nonchalantly, hoping no-one would notice what a treasure I had just collected… it starts to turn in mid-Feb and still has a few leaves at the end of May… nowhere in the literature is a red-leaved plane that grows so strongly recorded…

24 Heading back towards Freddy's Dam

Now we double back to capture the view across the dam…

25 View from the bridge

And eventually I capture the piece de resistance from the bridge, whilst the thirsty dogs create ripples on the water… to see the view from The House that Jack built, go back to my post from two weeks ago.